In 2004, Daniel and his family moved into a home on East Central Avenue, just south of Fresno city limits. Daniel’s father, Leo, bought the home in the 1960s and lived there almost his entire life. The home and the neighborhood hold a special place in Daniel’s heart.
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In 2015, all of the homes on his block lost access to water except Daniel’s, so he and his family provided emergency connections to his family’s well so his neighbors could stay in their homes. That is how good neighbors take care of each other: by looking out for one another’s fundamental well-being.
Daniel and his father have both had cancer, an experience shared by almost every other family in the neighborhood. Since construction of the Amazon warehouse began nearby a few months ago, dust has choked the air and covered his home, triggering his daughter’s asthma and allergies.
Meanwhile, trucks rumble pass the homes non-stop.
In January, Daniel and Leo and many other residents, community leaders, and advocates filled Fresno City Council chambers and spoke out to ask the city to look more closely at the impacts of a proposed industrial park before allowing the project to move forward.
The industrial park would be located in front of Daniel’s home, a half mile from Orange Center Elementary School and near several disadvantaged, unincorporated communities, which the California Environmental Protection Agency has identified as among the most pollution-burdened in the entire state.
According to city documents, the industrial park would occupy more than 2 million square feet and cause more than 6,200 truck and car trips every day to pass along streets shared by homes.
In their testimony, residents objected to the city’s failure to notify them of the project earlier and shared their concerns about the industrial park’s impacts on their families’ neighborhoods, homes and health.
Residents shared personal stories of how industrial and hazardous waste facilities approved by the city in the area have contaminated the air they breathe and water they drink and of the unusually high rate of cancer in the neighborhood.
They asked the city to do what the law requires: study the industrial park project’s air quality, water supply and traffic impacts and adopt measures to protect public health, property and quality of life in this vulnerable neighborhood.
Rather than respond directly and sincerely to residents’ concerns, Councilmembers chose – one through a hateful attack and others though apparent indifference – to disregard the concerns and proceed with a project which itself disregards a neighborhood’s health, well-being and fundamental value.
The behavior of the city of Fresno’s representative council reflects a harrowing disregard for residents’ concerns about the impacts of the city’s lan d use decisions on will have on their health, safety and welfare.
And the entire council’s vote continues a long history in Fresno of decision-makers locating industrial and noxious land uses in lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color in south Fresno.
Time and time again residents have expressed their concerns, but they are ignored. These land-use decisions have a devastating impact on public trust and contribute to gross public health and environmental quality disparities across the city.
City officials’ treatment of south Fresno residents and advocates seeking to protect residents’ rights to a healthy environment and to remain in their homes also sharply contrasts with city attention and resources recently dedicated to resolving concerns of north Fresno’s river bluffs residents about car traffic in their neighborhoods.
In response to concerns about traffic from a proposed San Joaquin River access point, city leaders supported a plan requiring development of a new road and parking lot at a cost of up to $5 million to route cars away from the neighborhood.
South Fresno residents who asked the city to study and address the impacts of more than four truck and car trips per minute passing by homes were met with hostility and silence.
All residents have the right to participate in public processes, especially those that directly impact their homes and their neighborhoods, and south Fresno residents are entitled to the same respect for and attention to their concerns for their health, safety, and well-being as north Fresno residents.
We cannot achieve prosperity by disregarding the rights of our most vulnerable residents or by leaving behind any neighborhood. Unlike what city officials would chose to believe, the city of Fresno is not above the law.
Our firm’s previous litigation on behalf of southwest Fresno and Jane Addams residents against it, in which the city changed its illegal conduct only after our clients filed suit, has shown it is not.
Leadership Counsel stands by its commitment to working alongside residents of our most vulnerable communities to ensure they have a say in the critical decision-making processes that impact their lives.
That’s why we are representing South Central Neighbors United in its lawsuit against the city of Fresno and Caglia Environmental to ensure that they may enjoy access to a decent home and living environment as envisioned by the law.
Ashley Werner is an attorney with the Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, representing South Central Neighbors. Connect with her at 559-369-2790.